Can lightning strike twice for Ross County at Hampden against Celtic?
When their semi-final encounter with the Hoops was drawn back in November, it instantly triggered memories of their famous victory against the Parkhead club in 2010, which took them to their first major final.
Goals from Steven Craig and Martin Scott proved enough for the then First Division outfit to pull off one of the greatest shocks in Scottish Cup history, humbling a Celtic side laced with household names such as Robbie Keane, Scott Brown and Aiden McGeady.
It was the day Ross County arrived on Scottish football’s big scene, and although they lost the final 3-0 against Dundee United, the Staggies’ stock has continued to rise since then.
Now in their fourth top-flight season since promotion in 2012, the novelty factor of simply facing Celtic has perhaps faded, but certainly not on a stage like this.
Sunday’s match will be their first trip to Hampden since that run, but to the two survivors of the side – Scott Boyd and Michael Gardyne – it will feel like a different team they are part of altogether, and one Celtic will know far much more about than the one that humiliated them six years ago.
Plucky minnows from the Highlands? Try established Premiership force.
This season alone has been one of great strides under Jim McIntyre. Should the Staggies fall short this weekend, by no means will it be the end of their hopes of success. Their Scottish Cup campaign continues with an appealing fifth round tie against junior side Linlithgow Rose next weekend, while they are firmly on track with their bid to consolidate a top-six place.
To be competing so strongly on all three fronts at this stage of the season makes them the envy of the majority of teams in Scotland. It is remarkable to think that 12 months ago, the Staggies’ season was riding solely on catching St Mirren to avoid relegation, which speaks volumes for the job McIntyre has overseen since achieving that goal.
If they are to continue their League Cup campaign, to set up a final against either St Johnstone or Hibernian, County will most likely require a healthy dose of luck against the competition holders. On one hand they have nothing to lose, but McIntyre will be desperate to show his side is capable of standing up to the best in the country when it matters most.
They have certainly not been disgraced in either league performance against Ronny Deila’s side this term. County have kept Craig Gordon busy on both occasions, and indeed the goalkeeper should have walked when he scythed down Jackson Irvine on the opening day, with the Australian ready to roll the ball into the empty net.
Their hopes of showing that decisive edge in the final third look set to be boosted by the return of leading scorer Liam Boyce, who is available after returning to training following a broken hand.
Match fitness could be a concern, given he has not played in a month due to the injury, but his 17 goals in 24 matches this season make him a man who McIntyre will be very glad to have at his disposal.
A defeat for Celtic would spell the end of Deila’s hopes of securing a domestic treble, which the Norwegian is under pressure to deliver this term following a poor European campaign.
It was Caley Thistle who ended their hopes of a domestic clean sweep last season, and County would love to ensure the damage is once again inflicted from the north this weekend.